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Palm Coast Monday, Apr. 24, 2017 5 years ago

As part of one of Bunnell's oldest families, Ray Mercer recalls a quieter, gentler time

At 91, Mercer is still dedicated to preserving the town's history.
by: Colleen Michele Jones Community Editor

For 53 of his 91 years, Ray Mercer has lived in the same yellow clapboard house at the corner of Magnolia and North Anderson streets in Bunnell.

The home, originally built by Mercer's great-aunt and great-uncle in 1923, has remained continuously in the family for nearly 100 years.

In a recent interview, Mercer looked out from his screened-in back porch and pointed to an ash tree in the backyard.

"Now that tree used to be so big and high, there could be 12 or more kids in it at one time; all the children from the neighborhood used to like to come and play in it," Mercer said, the lines around his eyes crinkling up as he smiled at the memory. "Some of them -- they're not kids anymore -- can still tell you a story about getting a hot buttered biscuit and sweet tea here."

Ray Mercer and his late wife, Wanda, raised their family of four children -- two sons and two daughters -- in the house at 410 N. Anderson. Both were teachers, she at the old Carver Elementary School, he at Bunnell High School. Mercer, a veteran, eventually went on to take a job at the Bunnell Post Office, a position he held for 33 years. As a people person, he loved to chat with everyone who walked in the door.

It was a much quieter time in Bunnell, which wasn't as developed as it is now, the kind of quintessential American small town you think of from Norman Rockwell paintings.

"Everybody knew everybody," Mercer said. "You knew things like whose yard you could cut through, and whose you couldn't."

Many of the Mercers' neighbors -- family names like Deen, Johnston, Wadsworth, Tucker, Miller and Lambert -- go back four of five generations in the Flagler area.

But to Mercer, they were just friends and neighbors, people who made an impression on a young boy growing up in a rural town built largely around turpentine stills, lumber and farming.

"Mrs. Lambert always had her hair just so," said Mercer. "And Mrs. Miller, she knew how to parade the streets on Saturday evenings. She was a beautiful woman and always dressed to perfection."

The town, of course, has changed a great deal in all these years.

"Old houses are being torn down, new ones put up," Mercer said. "We're losing our history, and we're losing it fast."

Some time before her passing five years ago, Wanda Mercer expressed her concern to her husband that Espanola Cemetery -- the 17-acre parcel where so many of the family's ancestors, as well as other early settlers are buried -- was not being kept up with as relatives had moved away from the area. The couple began regularly clearing plots neglected by time and weathering. As a board member of the cemetery, Mercer still leads those efforts.

At 91, Mercer is still remarkably active, getting around OK when his balance is there. And with nine grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren, he's got a lot to keep up with.

"My life has been so blessed," Mercer said. "I just marvel at it every day of my life."

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